Stories of Genetic Testing, Prophylactic Surgery, and Reconstruction: Lorell
Lorell Hornbrook
September 6, 2016

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Lorell Hornbrook has a strong family history of breast cancer: Both her older sister and her father were diagnosed with breast cancer. Her father died at age 75 from treatment complications, a year after he was diagnosed. In 2014, at age 48, Lorell decided to have genetic testing to see if she had a gene mutation that dramatically increased her risk for breast cancer. When her test results came back positive for a BRCA2 mutation, Lorell had already decided what she would do: a double prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction using tissue from her tummy area. Lorell is one of three women whose stories are featured in the Breastcancer.org video series on genetic testing, prophylactic surgery, and reconstruction.

Listen to the podcast to hear Lorell talk about:

  • why she never hesitated about participating in the videos
  • the type of research she did after she got her genetic test results
  • how she prepared herself for surgery
  • the advice she would give to women in a similar situation

Running time: 11:04

These podcasts, along with all the other vital content and community support at Breastcancer.org, only exist because of the generous donations of listeners like you. Please visit Breastcancer.org/support to learn how you can help keep our services free for you and the millions of women who depend on us.

Show Full Transcript

Center For Restorative Breast Surgery

Jamie DePolo: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Breastcancer.org podcast, I’m Jamie DePolo, the senior editor at Breastcancer.org. Today’s guest is Lorell Hornbrook, one of the women whose story of genetic testing and prophylactic surgery is featured on the Breastcancer.org site. This podcast is made possible by the generous support of the Center for Restorative Breast Surgery in New Orleans.

Lorell Hornbrook has a strong family history of breast cancer. Both her older sister and her father were diagnosed with breast cancer. Her father died at age 75 from treatment complications a year after he was diagnosed.

In 2014, at age 48, Lorell decided to have genetic testing to see if she had a gene mutation that dramatically increased her risk for breast cancer. When her test results came back positive for a BRCA2 mutation, Lorell had already decided what she would do: a double prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction using tissue from her tummy area. Lorell is one of three women whose stories are featured in the Breastcancer.org video series on genetic testing, prophylactic surgery, and reconstruction. Today, she is going to talk to us about making the videos and sharing her story.

Lorell, welcome to the podcast, it’s so nice to have you here and see you again.

Lorell Hornbrook: Well, thanks Jamie, it’s great to be in touch again.

Jamie DePolo: Yeah! So, I’m curious, what was your first thought when the people from the Center for Reconstructive Breast Surgery asked you if you wanted to participate in making a video?

Lorell Hornbrook: I was kind of surprised, I guess. I know they see hundreds of patients over the past 2 years, and they remembered my story, or that I had this family history, and I was flattered, I was a little nervous. And then they told me that they had a larger group that they were going to be talking to and narrowing it down from there, so I said, “Well, you know, we’ll just give it a shot a see what happens.” But I was happy, and flattered, and surprised all at the same time.

Jamie DePolo: : Okay. Was there any hesitation on your part about participating? Did you think, “Oh, maybe I’m not sure?”

Lorell Hornbrook: No, that never crossed my mind. Anything that I could share in any way that they asked me to, I would be happy to help.

Jamie DePolo: Excellent. And what did your family think? I mean, did you talk to them about it?

Lorell Hornbrook: Of course my husband had to tease me. He teased me a little bit!

Jamie DePolo: About being a star?

Lorell interview

Lorell Hornbrook: Because of my nervous laugh! Because I have this horrible nervous laugh when I get anxious, it just pops out at the most inopportune times. So I vowed I would keep that under control. But they were all very supportive and like, “Wow, that’s kind of cool. That’ll be really interesting to see how they can group some stories together and try to help other people.”

Jamie DePolo: Okay. That’s the aim of the video series. Now, I’m curious, when you were considering your prophylactic surgery and reconstruction, were there videos? I know that the Center has some photos that you can look at. But did you come across any other videos like this with people talking about what it was like?

Lorell Hornbrook: The only ones that I really did find were on the Breast Center website, they had some testimonials of people who had the gene mutation, the decision that they had to go through, and they talked about their surgeries a little bit. So actually on the Breast Center site they had several testimonials that were very, very helpful.

Jamie DePolo: Okay. When you first made your decision did you immediately go looking for videos, or photos, or something, or…

Lorell Hornbrook: Yes.

Jamie DePolo: You did, okay. I just wondered if that was immediate or it came later.

Lorell Hornbrook: I scoured the internet, and their site was just full of really good information, and they recommended a book, as a matter of fact, called The Breast Reconstruction Guidebook by Kathy Steligo. I don’t know how to pronounce her last name.

Jamie DePolo: Okay. Sure.

Lorell Hornbrook: That was fantastic. So I actually purchased a book and it told you everything you needed to know, from before, what to bring to the hospital, what to expect, what they’re going to do to you. It was a real, real good tool to use to mentally prepare yourself emotionally and prepare yourself for the surgery.

Jamie DePolo: Okay. I guess, for you, knowing that you had this gene mutation and you’re going to have this surgery, what was the toughest part of preparing yourself?

Lorell Hornbrook: That’s hard to say. It was a difficult decision. It was scary. I think you would try to just put it out of your mind for a little while, go about your day, and then all of a sudden you’d remember, “Oh goodness, my appointment’s coming up,” or, “What’s the surgeon going to talk to me about,” and… before your appointment. So I guess, before you make your final, final decision, you still have that wishy-washy kind of feeling, “Am I doing the right thing? Is this going to be the best avenue for me to take?” But once I made the decision there was no looking back. So there was some hesitation and some trepidation before, but once I said, “Okay, this is the path, this is my surgeon, this is my surgery center,” then there was no looking back after that.

Lorell and Dr. Stolier, Center for Restorative Breast Surgery

Jamie DePolo: Okay. I’m curious, you talked about the videos on the Center’s site, did the women talk about that kind of preparation, that mental and emotional preparation, or was it really more, “This is my situation, this is what I did”?

Lorell Hornbrook: I think a little bit of both. I don’t remember. It was 2 years ago. Looking back, I went back to the site and looked at a few things to refresh my memory, and they talked about making the decision and having to travel -- most of them were from out of town and coming. And then afterwards… it was little bit of both, I would suppose, but I don’t think they really dwelled on any one topic, to make a point about any one topic. It was making the decision, facing what you had to face, getting through it, going through it, healing after it, and it was just really helpful. All of the testimonials were really, really helpful.

Jamie DePolo: Oh, great. Well, that’s what we hope these videos will do. When you were talking about your story on camera, how did you feel? Was it a flashback?

Lorell Hornbrook: It was weird, and flashback-ish, I guess, to recall all of the emotions and the things that happened with my family, my dad, my sister, during those times. And it was a little nerve-racking to try to remember everything properly, I wanted to be correct and as precise as possible. It did bring up a lot of emotions from that time, and it was bittersweet remembering the great times and all the fun that we had together as a family. And my dad was a really big jokester and prankster, and he just loved all that, and then it was bitter also because it was just a rough… it was rough on our family, my sister, my mom, everybody. Cancer’s a horrible, horrible thing to live with, to treat, to overcome, and some people just don’t, they just don’t overcome it and it gets them in the end. So yes, it was a little bit hard to remember the bad times, but it was also great to remember the good times.

Jamie DePolo: Oh, that’s good. Was there one part of making the video that stood out for you?

Lorell Hornbrook: It was just so interesting to see how everything is put together, and how professional everybody was. And there was a change of venue, and you guys came over to my home, and that was really just great to see all the equipment and what needed to happen, and how great everybody was. It was just really, really interesting.

Jamie DePolo: Excellent. Now, I want to thank you, so much, both for doing this podcast, but also for sharing your story, because I think it’s going to help a lot of people answer a lot of questions, and kind of let people see, like, “Hey, there are women out there just like me who are having this surgery.” Do you have any advice for anyone who might be in the same situation you were in 2014, and now they’re watching your video?

Lorell Hornbrook: I sure do. And what I tried to help myself remember at the time going through all this was to be brave. Be brave for yourself and for your family, and if you have kids or if you have a spouse, you can show the people in your life that difficult things are going to come up, life is going to try to knock you down, circumstances might try to knock you down, but you can do something about it. You can be brave, you can find out about good surgeons in your area, you can talk with your insurance company to find out how they can help you, you can find good doctors, a good support system. I was really, really, really fortunate to have a good support system, a great surgery center right near me. It was like the stars aligned for me.

Lorell and husband

I hope that everybody’s stars can align when they have to face something as serious, and scary, and life-changing that this kind of test prognosis can be a for a person and a family -- it affects the whole family. And they have some really great sources out there nowadays, like the website FORCE, Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, really was very helpful, just great information. There’s lots of information on the Breastcancer.org site. There’s lots of people to help, all you have to do is ask. You can find it in your area, and be brave, and it’s going to work out, it’s going to all work out.

Jamie DePolo: Wow, that’s great. That is good to hear. And Lorell, thank you so, so much for doing this podcast and for doing the video.

Lorell Hornbrook: Thank you, Jamie. It’s been a great experience, and I hope to be able to help a few people, inform a few people, and it’ll all be worth it.

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